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If RJD wins, Lalu, a convict, will be key to decisions made in Assembly: An analysis

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New Delhi (ILNS): Bihar will have a new political dispensation installed by November 10. The elections started today and will finish on November 7. The results will be declared on November 10. Win or lose, a day before that, the RJD will be celebrating another incident. Their leader, president of the party, Lalu Prasad Yadav will be released on bail.

As Bihar goes, past crimes aren’t important. Especially so for Lalu, the darling of the masses. What can change post polls, when the ballots have already been cast, and the decision already made? On Friday RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, Lalu’s dear son, asserted that his father’s release would pave a goodbye path for Nitish Kumar. Considering that the RJD might fail at the hustings, this claim sounds hollow.

However, there seem to be various implications of the statement made by Tejashwi Yadav.

Lalu Prasad Yadav, a convicted felon, is the president of the party. Whether holding of such posts should also go against a convicted person, is being debated in the Supreme Court and no clear decision has emerged.

It is, however, important to see what changes can a party chief do, even out of government. Lalu has already shown this before, when he had installed his wife Rabri Devi as Chief Minister of the state, while he ruled from behind the wings.

The president of a political party in India has the power to formulate policy within the party. Political parties in India have always been autocratic in nature, and the RJD is no different. The ‘followers’ of Lalu are generally so mesmerized by his sheer presence, that considerations of delicacies such as inner-party democracy do not matter.

Hence, it would be Lalu, and to an extent Tejashwi, who will be formulating policies for the party, whether they are in power or on opposition. Either way, these will have major bearing on how the party acts in the Assembly. Many of the party decisions would bear the signature of its president, Lalu Prasad Yadav. He may be a people’s leader, a darling of the masses, but is a convicted felon too.

While the law bars such convicted people from participating in the poll process directly for six years from date of imprisonment, there is nothing (so far) barring them from holding party posts and taking important decisions that would ultimately be the main plank of the party. These will translate into government decisions if they are in power, or into important documents preserved in assembly libraries for reference if they are in the opposition.

Any opposition party will be able to carry its party agenda into the house and this agenda would be signed and stamped by Lalu.

Advocate Ashwini Upadhyay had approached the Supreme Court, wanting that convicted persons should be barred from holding party posts, but this is still being examined by the top court.

Meanwhile, in Bihar, law and order, anti-corruption activities and more might, just, be controlled (indirectly) by a person who had himself been in jail for corruption.

Other parties in the Mahagathbandhan might have a problem about whips issued by the main party. This would be a tricky situation for the party in the House.

In a political party in India it’s the responsibility of a party president to lead the agenda of the party. A party president forms and leads the agenda of a political party. That would mean if RJD comes to power then the state would get an agenda from a convicted leader. Remember, Lalu is considered a person for social reforms but not for economic reforms. The party president is endowed with the responsibility of preparing a vision of the party, nominate and appoint the office bearers. Normally speaking, most of the decisions related to day to day activities, roles and responsibilities of party functionaries are taken by the president of that particular party.

In view of this year’s assembly elections, the RJD had elected the national president a year earlier, so that the party can fight elections firmly under the leadership of Lalu Prasad. Lalu was re-elected unopposed as the Rashtriya Janta Dal chief for the 11th time. For a better functioning of any political party a full-timer party president is required. Even the INC does not have one today.

There have been several instances when senior party leaders have complained of discomfort with the generational shift and found themselves in isolation. The senior leaders have many a time held that they are not being heard by Tejashwi Yadav, the way Lalu used to hear them.

In 2018 the Centre told the told the Supreme Court that appointment of an office bearer to a political party is a matter of the party’s autonomy and it may not be apt to restrain the poll panel from registering a party just because its functionary was disqualified from contesting polls.

This was in response to a plea which sought banning convicted people from forming political parties and becoming their office bearers for the period they are disqualified.

For the first time in three decades Lalu was not there to campaign for his RJD. Lalu is an eternal fighter and enjoys support from communities such as backward castes, Dalits and Muslims. He is considered to be a visionary and an intelligent leader. It is a well known fact that he is a mass leader and connects with the voters very well. He can be seen sitting on a chaar-poi, interacting with local people in their local language. Such type of engagement or connectivity with the Bihar voters, of any other political leader is missing in the present circumstances.

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Upadhayay’s PIL

Following Upadhayay’s 2017 PIL the top court had agreed to examine the constitutional validity of section 29A of the Representation of the People Act (RPA), 1951 (RPA), which deals with the power of the poll panel to register a political party. A response was also sought from the Centre and the Election Commission in this regard. In 2018 the Supreme Court observed that the “purity of democracy” is eroded when convicted politicians are allowed to hold political party posts and choose candidates for elections. In its response, the Centre clarified that even though a person, upon conviction in a criminal case, will be barred from contesting elections, he cannot be stopped from floating a political party or becoming its office-bearer. In last December the Chief Justice of India S. A. Bobde had recused himself from hearing the PIL and had asked for the matter to be listed before another bench. The issue still awaits a further hearing.

A judgment in this is crucial. As it is rightly said, the sooner the better, as decriminalisation of politics is still a debatable issue and a much needed electoral reform.

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